Letter to Paul Kalmanovitz from the Musicians' Protective Association

About the Project

Known as “America’s Greatest Sepia Piano Player” and the “Brown Bomber of Sophisticated Songs,” Gladys Bentley (12 August 1907 – 18 January 1960) was an American blues pianist, singer, and performer during the Harlem Renaissance. An African American lesbian, Bentley performed regularly in gay clubs in New York and Los Angeles while dressed in men's clothes. This letter requests payment for Gladys Bentley from the owner of a nightclub in Hollywood. At the bottom is the owner's response that Bentley's performance did not take place due to a police raid that shutdown the club alleging an "indecent performance" was taking place. Regarding a performance in 1947, this letter heralds the beginning of the McCarthy era, during which homosexuals were aggressively persecuted. By 1950, Bentley had stopped crossdressing and wrote an article claiming she had "cured" her lesbianism. In honor of Bentley and LGBTQ Pride Month, help us transcribe this artifact documenting a significant time in LGBTQ+ histories. For more information, check out NMAAHC's web portal to explore LGBTQ+ Objects in the NMAAHC Collection.

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